Sometimes you just can't make it into the kitchen to cook. Dr. Gourmet has reviewed some common convenience foods, ingredients, and restaurant selections so that you know what's worth eating - and what's not. View the Index of all Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews

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Restaurant Review:
Outback Steakhouse

Once again I will admit that I don't much like having to go out and review chain restaurants. it's a challenge because the food is generally so processed that it bothers me to even sample the dishes. The food is barely one step away from the quality of Lean Cuisine and I've been especially dreading going to Outback Steakhouse. Since I've never set foot in one, looking at the menu seemed especially dismaying, especially after eating at similar restaurants. "More of the same," I thought. This was reinforced when I stood by the bar waiting for our table. The floor was greasy. You read that right. Greasy!

"Ah, well. It has to be done," was all I could think.

I am, however, going to give away the ending of the story here. It's not all that bad. Reading on you'll see that there's some pretty good but there's some really, really, really, really bad. (Get to the next to last paragraph for the best choice.)

We started with an appetizer. The Gold Coast Shrimp seemed a good choice at 142 calories and 188 mg of sodium per serving. Until you realize that a "serving" is only 1 1/2 shrimp. So you might be able to split an order of this for lunch with someone and have a side salad. Tasters did say that these had good coconut flavor but the sauce was like sweet pineapple jelly. All of the tasters called this "greasy."

The House Salad was good, with fresher greens than usual for a chain restaurant. The better dressing choice is the Tangy Tomato. Outback does serve their salads with the dressing on the side (with the exception of the Caesar Salad) and it's about 1/4 cup, which is two or three times as much as you need. The reported calories are 280 with 574 mg of sodium, but if you only eat half of the dressing this will likely be about half the amount of calories and salt. The dressing has a strong, sweet ketchup flavor. Not anywhere as good a version of the French Dressing my mother made when I was growing up, but OK for a chain restaurant.

Not a terrible start but not fabulous (my expectations were low, remember).

The main courses fared better. Really, it went up from there, with some that were actually pretty good. We ordered all of them grilled but without any of the added seasoning or butter. The flavor was good and tasters liked the Outback Special Steak. It's only 226 calories and 96 mg of sodium and was cooked perfectly. It was a slightly tough (but not overly so) piece of sirloin with good beef flavor. You get choices of sides including baked potatoes (either Idaho or sweet potatoes) that are a reasonable size. Even better were the veggies. Steamed broccoli, or a mix of carrots, yellow squash and snow peas. Not overcooked. Fresh and bright, these were delicious!

The Grilled Chicken Barbie was equally good. Not overcooked or overly seasoned. Not greasy, either, but a bit salty at 780 mg. Interestingly, it's a double chicken breast which is really two servings, so you can take half home for sandwich makings. It's around 350 calories but almost 800 mg of sodium (not a problem if you eat the correct portion size and only have half). The Atlantic Salmon comes in at 361 calories and only 115 mg of sodium and all the tasters liked this as well. It was cooked to perfection, being slightly pink in the middle. I will admit to being surprised that the fish was moist and flavorful and not salty at all. Any of the three – the steak, chicken Barbie or the salmon – would be a fine meal.

OK, there had to be some bad, right?

The tilapia dish that looked promising and came topped with a crabmeat stuffing. The tilapia was, much like the salmon, well cooked, flavorful and moist. The crabmeat topping was awful. Awful! The tilapia without the crabmeat would have been a great dish. This crabmeat goop may be, in fact, the worst meal we have ever tasted in a chain restaurant. The crabmeat was so salty that one taster said, "It burned my tongue - the first bite felt like I was getting a migraine. My temples throbbed." I have to agree. This was an amazingly bad recipe. Everything that I thought would be bad about my trip to Outback was in this crab topping.

Well, maybe not.

There is the choice of adding some sides to your steak or other main course. You can have a lobster tail, grilled shrimp or scallops. We asked the (very nice) waiter and you are allowed to order these without a main course, as we were thinking that ordering just these add-ons might be a good choice with a salad and a potato. You can order them alone, but don't. Just don't. Not with a steak and not without a steak. Not on a train, not on a plane. All three of these were not as bad as the crabmeat but they were close. Salty, dried out, flavorless and covered with grease was how these were described by tasters. Just terrible.

I did promise you some good news in the end. (If you skipped forward you did miss the good review of the steak, chicken, salmon, potatoes and veggies.) By far the best of the menu is the Sweet Glazed Roasted Pork Tenderloin. This was a darn good dish (for a chain restaurant). The glaze was sweet and tangy and the pork was perfectly cooked. It was served with pretty awful gluey garlic mashed potatoes (get the baked sweet potato instead, which would be an excellent pairing). The steamed French green beans were good but make sure to ask for them without any butter, as they were way over sauced. Everyone agreed that this was one of the best dishes tasted in a chain restaurant (faint praise but there you have it).

Outback is like Jekyll and Hyde. Some pretty good dishes and some of the worst ever. Even so, I have to say I would go back. In spite of some of the awful crabmeat. Setting aside the greasy floor. Forget about the terrible seafood. All in all they have some good and fairly healthy choices.